Opinion: When is the best time to change a logo?

Why not everyone is happy with the City of Vancouver's new look

Why not everyone is happy with the City of Vancouver’s new look

The City of Vancouver recently released a new logo. The simple logo generated a lot of discussion about both the cost and whether it was needed in the first place.


This prompts the question, when is a good time to change your logo?

Having been through a large-scale logo change before, it is a daunting and expensive task. The initial design costs aside, the real cost is the implementation on hundreds if not thousands of locations, from simple decals to full-blown backlit signs. That is where the real expense comes in.

There should be a good reason to change or update a logo given the significant expense. Keep in mind that, when you change the logo, consumers expect something different. If you change the logo because you are tired of it or you just think it’s time, save your money. It might backfire.

The best time to change the logo is when there is a significant change in strategy for the organization—that is when you get the most value for it. Consumers see something new, and therefore expect something new, so give it to them.

That’s what Mountain Equipment Co-op did. In June 2013 the company unveiled a new, very simple logo. The outcry from its long-time customers was swift and sharp, demanding a return to the original. “It could be a bank logo,” decried one commentator. But the change in design was in recognition of a change in strategic direction for the outdoor company, from a mountain climbing supplier to an outdoor supplier. Regardless of the design, it sent the right signal: there is something new and different here, come by and take a look.

Sometimes a logo just looks tired, so a refresh is in order. A good refresh doesn’t involve a lot of change, just enough for someone to say, “That looks better,” without really realizing it looks different. The rollout can happen over a long period of time, and most people won’t even notice; they’ll just feel better about you. The Netflix refresh is a good example. Its revision was so minimal the company didn’t even call it a logo change—it was just a “new icon.” An alternative description, I guess.

The cost of changing a logo can be daunting. The $8,000 the City spent is a fairly good deal. Sure, the logo looks simple, but all great ideas seem simple after the fact. Stare at a blank piece of paper, and coming up with something is hard. I’m sure there were many, many versions and iterations before settling on that particular logo. Some companies spend thousands, even millions on a new logo design, only to have a few stylized letters in various colours. Again, before going to the expense, make sure there is a good reason.

Finally, depending on the brand, there may be backlash. The Gap introduced a new logo in 2010, got hammered by its customers and quickly backpeddled. Nothing had changed in the stores, but the logo was supposed to honour the “heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward,” as stated by the company at the time. It went from svelt and somewhat stylish to blocky and plain, not really what a fashion brand is looking for. Poof, there goes more than a few million dollars.

So will the new Vancouver logo survive? There won’t be a large outcry to stay with the old one, even though most people like it better. The difference in this case is simple—if you don’t like a company’s new logo and you complain loudly enough, it will back down hoping you’ll continue to spend money with them.

The City doesn’t have that problem. It gets your money anyway, regardless of what the sign on the door looks like.

Brad Sherwin has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, strategy and communications. He is currently the director of marketing for a national nonprofit organization.